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Reports state Twitter may have lost its intermediary status, but no official confirmation

Multiple reports citing unnamed government sources have stated that Twitter has lost its status as an intermediary for failing to comply with the IT Rules 2021 that came into effect on May 26. This could mean that authorities may try to hold Twitter liable for the content shared by users on its platform. The reports of this loss of intermediary status have so far come from the Financial Express, ANI, and The Economic Times. “Twitter is liable for penal actions against any Indian law just as any publisher is,” an unspecified number of sources told NDTV.

“We are keeping the MeitY apprised of the progress at every step of the process. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines,” a Twitter spokesperson told MediaNama. However, the company did not share details on whether it received a notice from the government regarding its intermediary status and where it currently stands in terms of compliance with the rules. It also did not contest the assessment made by the multiple reports.

IT Minster weighs in

IT Minister RS Prasad tweeted this morning saying that despite being given multiple opportunities to comply, “the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines.” But Prasad stopped short of saying that Twitter has lost the intermediary status.  Prasad also pointed out that Twitter has failed to set up a grievance redressal process and has a “policy of flagging manipulates[d] media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes.”

RS Prasad further said that Indian firms doing business abroad comply with local laws so “why are platforms like Twitter showing reluctance in following Indian laws designed to give voice to the victims of abuse and misuse.” He also said that attempts by a foreign entity to “portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land” are misplaced.

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What do the rules say about losing intermediary status?

Rule 7 of the IT Rules says that the provisions of Section 79 of the IT Act won’t apply to intermediaries that fail to observe the IT Rules.

In a letter sent by the Indian government earlier this month to Twitter’s deputy general counsel Jim Baker, the government said that the refusal to comply with IT Rules 2021 will lead to “unintended consequences” such as Twitter losing exemption from liability as an intermediary available under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 — this would essentially make Twitter lose safe harbour provisions and liable for what people say on its platform.

No official notification

There has been no official government notification made in regard to Twitter’s status as an intermediary. We have reached out to the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology for comment.

Where does Twitter stand on the appointment of key officers?

Among other things, the new rules require significant social media intermediaries like Twitter to appoint a nodal contact person, resident grievance officer, and chief compliance officer (CCO). The CCO will be liable for any proceedings against the intermediary.

Twitter on May 31 told the Delhi High Court that it has appointed a grievance redressal officer in line with the new rules. MediaNama was able to verify from Twitter’s website that the company has appointed Dharmendra Chatur, a partner designate from the law firm representing Twitter at the Delhi High Court, as an interim grievance redressal officer.

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However, a “last notice” letter sent by the government to Twitter on June 5 highlights that—

  • Twitter has not informed about the details of the Chief Compliance Officer as required under the Rules
  • Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Person nominated by Twitter Inc is not an employee of the platform
  • The office address of Twitter Inc is of a law firm in India

Part II Rule 4 of the rules state that the three managerial roles must be filled by employees of the intermediary who are residents of India. Twitter responded by saying that it has appointed a nodal contact person and resident grievance officer on a contractual basis as an interim measure and will recruit to fill the positions on a permanent basis. It also stated that it is finalizing the appointment of a CCO and physical address in India and will share the details of the same within a week. A source also told PTI on June 8 that “Twitter has written to Meity seeking more time to comply with the IT rules. It has expressed its intent to comply with the rules but has been unable to do so because of the pandemic.”

On June 15, Twitter said it has appointed an interim CCO and the details of the same will be shared with the IT Ministry soon.

Twitter’s careers page currently lists openings for Nodal Officer, Resident Grievance Officer, Chief Compliance Officer. All three listings state that the candidate must be a resident of India.

Battle on multiple fronts

Separately, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology has asked Twitter to appear before them on June 18 on the subject of safeguarding citizen rights and misuse of social media/news platforms. According to the schedule of committee meetings, available on the Lok Sabha website, the meeting was being held “to hear the views of representatives of Twitter followed by evidence of representatives of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on the subject of safeguarding citizens rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in digital space.”

On the other hand, Delhi police served a notice and visited two offices of Twitter in connection with an alleged Indian National Congress-created toolkit. Twitter had labelled tweets of BJP politicians including spokesperson Sambit Patra and others on the alleged toolkit prepared by Congress as “manipulated media.” The tweets alleged that Congress had created this toolkit to defame the Prime Minister and ‘undermine’ the government’s Covid-19 vaccination policy. Soon after Delhi Police sent a notice to Twitter seeking clarification on the usage of the term “manipulated media” since the matter was under investigation.

Update (16 June, 12:30 pm): Response from Twitter spokesperson and IFF Twitter thread on no official statement was added.

Update (16 June, 1:00 pm): Updated story and headline based on tweets from IT Minster RS Prasad.

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